Hebrew National – Answering to a Higher Authority?


The kosher community is abuzz today as allegations surface that Hebrew National hot dogs, which have been kosher certified for decades, may not be kosher. According to a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Minnesota, ConAgra Foods Inc. (the maker of Hebrew National products) is accused of using unhealthy and unclean animals to make their hot dogs. According to the laws of kashrut, an animal must be healthy and clean for it to be considered kosher. The use of unclean or sick animals would render the product treif, or not kosher. The lawsuit claims that Con Agra put pressure on the employees “to maximize kosher meat production by slaughtering unclean cows.”

What makes a hot dog kosher… and why would somebody care to begin with? For my non-Jewish readers, here is a little background on the subject. The dietary laws found in the Torah have influenced the way Jews eat since Biblical times. These laws, known as kashrut, are the Biblical mandates required for making food kosher, or ritually pure for Jewish consumption. The degree to which a Jewish person follows the laws of kashrut will often depend on their level of religious observance. Recently, more Jews are rediscovering kosher eating as a way of connecting with their Jewish roots. While I do not keep kosher in the traditional sense, I do keep my recipes on The Shiksa blog kosher out of respect for my Jewish readership. That’s why this Hebrew National lawsuit is of particular interest.

Jews aren’t the only ones interested in buying kosher products. According to the book Kosher Nation by Sue Fishkoff:

More than 11.2 million Americans regularly buy kosher food, 13 percent of the adult consumer population. These are people who buy the products because they’re kosher, not shoppers who pick up Heinz ketchup, Miller beer, or Cheerios because they like the taste or the price. There are about six million Jews in this country. Even if they all bought only kosher food, which is not the case, they would not be enough to sustain such growth. In fact, just 14 percent of consumers who regularly buy kosher food do so because they follow the rules of kashrut. That means at least 86 percent of the nation’s 11.2 million kosher consumers are not religious Jews.

This statistic is particularly true for consumers who buy Hebrew National hot dogs. Their advertising campaign, which touts only using the best part of kosher cows (“no butts”), has convinced many who are not kosher that their hot dogs are superior. Both Jewish and non-Jewish consumers have paid a premium for Hebrew National hot dogs with the promise that they are made from cleaner, higher quality ingredients. When a consumer makes a purchase, they deserve to have the product match the labeling. Hebrew National’s slogan has long been, “We answer to a higher authority.” Keep in mind that this lawsuit is new, and ConAgra Foods Inc. should be given the chance to defend itself. I am hopeful that they do indeed answer to the highest authority. If the allegations prove to be true, there will be many angry consumers to answer to. With 4th of July approaching and grills heating up all over the country, I wonder if kosher shoppers will turn to another brand of kosher hot dog till the dispute is resolved.

Do you look for a kosher hechsher (the symbol for kosher certification) on your food products? Have you bought Hebrew National hot dogs in the past? Are you disappointed with claims that they may not, in fact, be kosher?


Comments (60)Post a Comment

  1. This isn’t the first time there have been issues with Hebrew National, right? I know some of my more Orthodox friends have not been eating them for a while now (in our Conservative household, we eat almost all Hekshers… though we keep an eye on companies that have had allegations of poor workers’ rights, etc).

    Ultimately, for me, a little dirt doesn’t really bother me. However if the animals are not being treated well before slaughter or living in filthy conditions, I am concerned. That said, I think it is more out of concern for tzaar baalei hayim (ethical treatment of animals).

    1. Amanda, I’m not sure if there have been issues. My local kosher market hasn’t sold Hebrew National for the past two years. I’m not sure of the reason, though.

  2. I do look for the Kosher symbol on certain things, even though we do not keep Kosher, as we are not Jewish, though we do like many Kosher foods and meals.

    The main reason I look for the symbol on hot dogs is because of my OWN aversion to eating offal. My husband could care less and would probably eat organ meat served to him looking like what it is (bleck). I also prefer Kosher products when there is uncertainty about ingredients, as I know the Kosher rules are strict and the quality will be better. NOTHING and I mean NOTHING beats a good Kosher pickle!!!

    This is disappointing, and I will follow it to see if it’s true, could just be some angry employee who didn’t get the raise he wanted or got fired…. could be true! However, since we are not Kosher, it does not affect me in the sense it might affect those who are meticulous about it.

    BTW…. just LOVE LOVE LOVE all of your recipes… keep it up!

    1. People, please Goggle “offal” for the correct definition. While I do not work directly for any processing plant (pork, beef, poultry) I do work with some of the processing machinery. Anything that comes out of that offal pipe does NOT go into anything that is for human consumption. USDA and USDC would shut them down in a heart beat if anything like that was suspected.

    2. The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden has an entire 10 page chapter devoted to offal (362-372).
      World English Dictionary
      offal (ˈɒf ə l)
      — n
      1. the edible internal parts of an animal, such as the heart, liver, and tongue
      chopped liver would be an example

    3. According to Merriam Webster:
      offal (noun): the waste or by-product of a process: as
      a : trimmings of a hide
      b : the by-products of milling used especially for stock feeds
      c : the viscera and trimmings of a butchered animal removed in dressing : variety meat

      variety meat (noun): : an edible part (as the liver or tongue) of a slaughter animal other than skeletal muscle

      So YES!! Offal DOES go into food we consume!

      However, I was not aware it was Kosher :(( no more hot dogs for me…. I just get hung up on the idea of it :(

  3. I am not convinced of anything here. The article you link to suggests that because the animals are dirty (have mud or sand on them) they cannot be kosher. That is not correct. Dirt on the outside of the animal will not invalidate it. If the cows are in fact sick, that would invalidate them, but I suspect that this is not happening. If the animal is sick it is up to a vet to determine if the animal is fir for human consumption. If the animal is, it is likely also valid to be kosher.

    I suspect that the root here is some people in the Orthodox world trying to invalidate a kosher certification. They have tried to have state laws (especially in NY and NJ) but those have been thrown out, so now they go after it this way. I hope this is not the case, but it certainly sounds like it.

    1. I agree with Phil. As far as I know, Triangle K has never been considered a reliable hecksher for Orthodox consumers; they’re not eating it, it doesn’t affect them. But the “Orthodox” heckshers would like a monopoly on what is considered “kosher.” So they’re attacking Triangle K through Hebrew National, accusing it of not meeting a standard (Orthodox / so-called “glatt”) that it never claimed to meet, to try to shut down Triangle K.

      Funny how the same people who defended Rubashkin’s practices, and rallied to support him, are cheering on this claim.

  4. I used to buy $64.00 of Hebrew National Hot Dogs a month to feed my family but when I realized they put Nitrates in them (which is cancer causing) I stopped. I haven’t bought hotdogs in over a year now. Miss them but I want to eat kosher. Even if you do use the perfect kosher meat why wreck it with poison chemicals? Seems that is defeating the purpose… Sad what money does to people if that is the case.

    1. I have a few brands of hot dogs and lunch meat on the grocery store shelves lately that are nitrate-free. You might look for them!

    2. Try to stock up with kosher for passover franks adn deli meat, I don’t think those have nitrates. Don’t know why, though. I find that in general KFP certified foods tend to have less chemicals in them in general.

  5. I nearly exclusively eat Hebrew National hot dogs, the beef knockwurst is what I normally buy. Sometimes I will buy Nathan’s dinner franks if they are on a good sale. I hope that Con-Agra is not cheating with the Kosher certificate on their products, but this world is becoming rather corrupt these days. This is a bit off the topic, but I would like to know where the best place to buy Israeli Olive Oil might be, I recently read that most olive oils that are produced anywhere else than Israel are cut down with cheaper oils and still marketed as pure.

  6. Another reason for buying Kosher sausage products is that they seem to be freer from gristle and other unsavory orthopedic detritus. I will be sorry to see the high-flying Hebrew National brand brought down by their irresponsibility, because they produce good food.

  7. Just because a law suit has been filed does not prove that the claimed facts are true. This may be another example of product liability attorneys filing suit hoping for a quick settlement in order to turn a profit. Many companies pay settlements to avoid bad PR, even though the allegations are not in fact true.

  8. I am not convinced that this is true. I think we have to hear from CONAGRA and see how they answer this lawsuit. Just because someone is sued does not mean they are guilty. I am sure there are Kosher providers of Hot Dogs that would love to see Hebrew National off the market because then they will see their own brands. Only time will tell. I have 3 packages in my freezer and will use them.

  9. I have not purchased Hebrew National hot dogs for at least 2 years now. The taste was different and they are much saltier then when I was growing up. I do hope it is not the case but I would not be surprised to learn the additional salt is to cover up the inclusion of less than kosher meat.

  10. We stopped eating Hebrew National hot dogs a good many years ago when the quality of the product became so bad it was not recognizable. We switched to Best Hot Dogs which were really the best and kosher but when Sara Lee bought them out and shut them down, hot dogs left our lives. Once in a while I do miss them but am never tempted to try any.

    1. I agree, Elle. We only bought Best, and they really were! When we heard they were disappearing, we bought TEN pkgs. at Sam’s Warehouse, and we still have 3 lonely hot dogs left. We keep waiting to eat them, because we don’t want them to be gone forever.

  11. I have just started purchasing hotdogs and sausages from Grow and Behold (in addition to turkey, chicken and beef). They source from grass fed, antibiotic free , kosher … everything we all want. And you would be supporting a young start -up with all the right values in the right places. Consider buying your hotdogs from THEM. You will never go back to Hebrew National!

  12. I have heard for years from my frum daughter and her husband that they did not consider Hebrew National products to be Kosher. They do not like the standards of Triangle K (the kashrus supervisor). (They did not eat Rubashkin either.)
    We however, do accept any hechsher but prefer others when possible. I can get meal mart (we do not care for the taste) if we drive 40 miles one way to the Kosher store; but we can get Hebrew National locally. So no need to stock up. There is a difference between Kosher and Glatt Kosher. Are the animals really not kosher or just not glatt?

    1. Hebrew National never claimed to be Glatt kosher. Apparently some Glatt heckshers are trying to create a monopoly on what is considered kosher by going after non-Glatt hechshers like Triangle K (see comments above). It would be a shame if that were the case… not everybody keeps Glatt kosher, and not every kosher certifying agency should be expected to serve the Glatt kosher population. We will have to see how the lawsuit develops and hold off making any hasty judgements; Hebrew National has a right to defend themselves against the suit.

    2. funny, i just had an arguement with my semi orthodox daughter today at a kosher kinish place in our local flea market. my grandchildren wanted a hot dog wrapped in a potato kinish for lunch. the hot dogs were hebrew national and she refused to let the kids have them because “they were not kosher enough” ie: glatt kosher. I argued that ,why is hebrew national not kosher when that is what they say they are and she got in a huff and told me i dont understand… which i suppose is correct since i am only a lowley reformed jew, almost goimen to her , sorry kiddo, i am what i am. i guess she was right after all. but gotta tell you, i love em with mustard and sauerkraut and will continue to have them….. when she is not around me,dont want to be a bad influence to my grandchildren !!!

  13. Interesting conversation Tori. I am so not kosher but my son goes to a school that is. I recently helped run the graduation including the food served and had to be certain all involved with purchases knew what they were buying and what was heckshered or not. These days, I am more concerned with buying hot dogs without nitrites and nitrates in them and am spending more for all beef nitrite-less dogs from Whole Foods or my local natural grocery store. It will interesting to see how the “higher authority” rules in this case.

    1. I wondered about nitrates too, I just assumed that somehow they had been Kosherized

  14. My late husband (z”l) only ate Hebrew National. He would grill them until they were very well done and most of the fat was gone. I only eat kosher hot dogs, and HN is the only brand I find in the supermarkets. It would certainly be a blow to learn that they’re not kosher – and would make me lose more of my faith in humanity than I already have…

  15. News story / response to the allegations… Allegedly.

    link to theyeshivaworld.com

    Incidentally, I grew up on Hebrew National hot dogs, though in a Reform / Not Kosher household. I rarely buy hot dogs any more, and when I eat one, it’s usually out (Baseball Game, anyone?) So I’m sure they’re not Kosher. I do, though, prefer the “Kosher Style” flavor, all beef and lots of garlic.

    1. Hi Margaret! We ship wherever Amazon ships, and yes I believe Amazon ships to Canada. The shipping times may be a bit slower, but I promise the products will be worth the wait! :)

  16. Certainly there is a middle ground here because many of us who keep kosher homes are not satisfied with Ultra Orthodox answers..I once asked a question of one of their mashgiach representatives and his answer to all was “because it’s tradition”…Read the suit, it can be challanged…I recall the story of Moses on the mountain when G-d told him never to eat meat in it’s mothers milk..Moses reseponded Oh so You are saying we must keep separate dishes?..No responded G-d what I said was “do not eat meat in the mother’s milk: Moshe :Oh so what you are saying is that you must wait six hours after eating meat before drinking milk ? NO Replied THE LORD who was usually slow to anger; DO WHAT EVER YOU WANT MOSHE”..and so it has been ever since. Friends be guided by traditon but G-d gave each of us the right and ability to think for ourselves, no matter who tells you otherwise

  17. I believe this issue here is that Hebrew National uses the Triangle-K hashgachah. Many Orthodox communities do not accept this. I’ve tried to determine why they don’t accept it but have not been to find out.

  18. When I was growing up I remember our Orthodox Rabbi saying things are either Kosher or they aren’t Now this was 60 years ago but I abide by the same motto- How can things be a little kosher? Or not Kosher enough? To me it’s black and white.

  19. I do keep a kosher home, and very proud of it! We live in Monsey, before the frum moved in.

    As a proud Jewish, I personally use Hebrew National, while I CAN easily purchase the ultra hechsha frankfurters. Hebrew National Fat Free are delicious. I can eat just one (lol maybe 2) but my Husband can eat a whole package. So for me, the product keeps my DH from having a heart attack. The HB Fat Free are endorsed by WW since they are that good.

    Living here in Monsey, the Jewish establishments are constantly checked by the town, and one of my favorite little jewish store had this gigantic board of health warning on it.. The store received it because they had a truck in their driveway. Sounds crazy but that is what they said.

    Everyone is eating Hebrew National and it has become a mainstream name, which I say congratulatios to them!

    Another personal opinion that my non Jewish friends become Hecksha watchers – the ingredients listed on their package CANNOT be changed. So if it lists olive oil. it can not be changed with palm oil.
    One of my favorite olive oil was years ago – it was Season and it was light and sweet. They never ever had that color or yummy oil anywhere. I have purchased so many brands. As for me I will be the first one purchasing your Israeli Olive Oil.

    Love this site…….Laura

  20. I am disappointed that Hebrew National may not be kosher. I used to buy these hot dogs just because I thought they were kosher. I don’t buy them anymore however, because they have nitrites listed in the ingredients. I am trying to avoid nitrites.

  21. Well…hot dogs in general are always made from what I consider “mystery meat”, and without going into specifics I think that we all have a vivid imagination and know what I mean in this regard. Therefore, hotdogs are not the best thing to consume to begin with, Kosher or not. If and when I do eat a hotdog (maybe twice a year)…..I do choose Hebrew National, because they taste the best….and I suppose it reminds me of my childhood. Life is short…..eat a couple, they won’t kill you….Kosher or not.

  22. As for nitrates, how many franks are you eating. Also, if I remember you are supposed to have OJ before eating them

    I am careful, and do eat as many organic foods as possible, but I purchased strawberries three weeks ago from Costco. I thought that I would freeze them, since I had them in the frig. We have been eating them starting in week 2, and they have no mold. My reg strawberries get mold, so quickly.

    So why am I saying this……………..3 weeks for strawberries, in the original plastic container………….chemical somewhere!

    So enjoy your Hebrew National!

  23. Just want to clarify a little bit about what it means to be a “little kosher.” My husband actually worked as a shochet (ritual slaughterer) at one of the Triangle-K’s factories, and basically, he said it just does not follow the same standards of slaughtering (which includes the animals, the machinery, the knives etc.) as more “glatt kosher” hechsherim. That being said, Triangle-K is not trying to be “glatt-kosher,” and they never pretended to be.

    1. I agree with Malka, but diseased animals are not kosher, tri-k or glatt kosher.
      I did forget to say THAT THE big chain stores, have the HN franks as doorbusters, in the burbs of NY. They sell out, and I always go again at the end of the week for the faithful raincheck.

  24. clearly all the H.N. eaters above lived to kvetch all about it…. beware so much propoganda on line these days …. a ploy to sell the “other” kosher brand…. eg. the recent “rumor” of cancer causing marga
    rine…. put out there by the dairy industry !

  25. I’m not Jewish but I do buy kosher foods quite often. My parents were both raised in Jewish neighborhoods in New York and I was introduced to the “kosher” concept at a very early age. I like to buy kosher products because they have always represented something that was healthier and purer. Made to a “higher” standard and safer to eat. I’m very concerned with the state of our country’s mass produced foods and buying kosher always gave me a little added peace of mind. When I first married my husband he couldn’t believe that I would buy hot dogs that cost $5.00 a pound vs. his favorite Bar S that cost $0.99 a pound. I simply asked him to think about what might be in his hot dog vs. what was in mine! Well…now I’m not so sure! How sad that even something as reliable as the kosher rating and Hebrew National are not what they used to be. I’ll be very, very interested in the outcome of this one!

  26. I am frum, and I go to a couple of different shuls in town. At one of the shuls, the Rabbi will have an open Q&A session between Mincha and Maariv on Shabbat. I brought this up last week, and we discussed the difference between Glatt and non-Glatt meat, as well as Choshed B’Chsherim (suspecting the innocent), specifically with regards to the Triangle-K and Rabbi Ralbag. Glatt is a stringency that the Chassidim and the Sephardim have accepted upon themselves. Ashkenazim, which is most of American Jewry, don’t hold by Glatt. With regards to the Triangle-K, the Rabbi said he had no reason to suspect R’ Ralbag of anything, and therefore, he should be trusted. He also mentioned that a large international supervising agency has been trying to put the Triangle-K out of business for years.

  27. I found this news release on Conagra site
    ConAgra Foods Makes Statement in Response to Hebrew National Lawsuit

    OMAHA, Neb.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Jun. 19, 2012– ConAgra Foods, Inc. (NYSE: CAG) released the following statement on Tuesday, in response to a class action lawsuit that calls into question the kosher status of its Hebrew National products.

    Hebrew National products are kosher, and this lawsuit is without merit. Hebrew National’s kosher status is certified by a well-recognized and authorized third-party. There is close rabbinical supervision of the food preparation process and packaging equipment. For more than 100 years, Hebrew National has followed strict dietary law, using only specific cuts of beef that meet the highest standards for quality, cleanliness, and safety with no by-products, artificial flavors, or artificial colors.

    Source: ConAgra Foods, Inc.

  28. No one on the board mentioned Empire Brand Chicken hot dogs. I see them everywhere from Target, to Publix, to kosher markets.

  29. Our Costco sells huge packages of Hebrew National franks for very cheap. But I don’t get them that often because of the sodium nitrate. I might buy a package about once every few years. If Hebrew National would come out with nitrate free Hebrew National Franks (with less fat too) I might start buying them more often.

    Our Costco was recently selling uncured Bison franks (High Plains Bison brand) without fillers, no nitrates, no hormones…from Bison raised in healthy conditions in the high plains….best franks I ever tasted – right up there with Hebrew National. But I think it was $18 for 1 package of only 10 franks. It was probably a onetime thing for me since my food budget needs to be less then $100 a month if possible.

    1. Mooba –

      Shop Rite had the HN franks on sale before each football holiday..lol. I purchase the no fat ones….8 in a package for under 2 dollars….not bad.
      I live in NY, but every Weight Watcher knows where to find them. So please go to your local WW meeting and ask someone…..very serious.

  30. A friend of mine is Orthodox (I’m Conservative) and he said that Hebrew National is Triangle K, not Union Orthodox; Triangle K is Kosher enough for Reform and Conservative Jews, but not Kosher enough for Orthodox Jews. I’m not sure how much of that is actual truth versus his opinion, but I know a lot of Orthodox Jews who won’t eat Hebrew National.

  31. Costco used to have that $1.50 Hebrew National hot dog with a soda — and about 3 years ago, switched to their own Costco brand – which, IMNSHO, just doesn’t taste as good as Hebrew National.

    With high cholesterol and gout, I am not supposed to eat any processed foods. Period.

    Meat and/or organ meats, dairy, legumes, asparagus, seafood/shellfish, are also NG. I can, however, eat salmon – it’s a good fish, but have to get the right kind.

    Seems nothing left for me to eat. I wish the arthritis doctor would tell me ONLY what I can eat – instead of what I cannot.

    I believe most diets fail because of the negative instead of the positive.

  32. From Hebrew National website:

    In light of the recent lawsuit, we want to assure our fans that we stand behind our kosher status. Hebrew National products are kosher, and this lawsuit is without merit. Hebrew National’s kosher status is certified by a well-recognized and authorized third-party. There is close rabbinical supervision of the food preparation process and packaging equipment. For more than 100 years, Hebrew National has followed strict dietary law, using only specific cuts of beef that meet the highest standards for quality, cleanliness, and safety with no by-products, artificial flavors, or artificial colors.

  33. Marny CA

    My husband loves franks. I purchase for him only Hebrew National not the reduced fat but the close to fat free. I have used up the stash on him, otherwise I would state the title. His heart doctor allows it.

    Hebrew National has a Hecscher on it……….so if you follpw that hescher it is ok

  34. To clarify, the issue is that Hebrew National isn’t glatt kosher. Now, you’re probably aware that meat can be kosher without being glatt, so this probably seems nitpicky, but current general kashrus standards among those who are shomer shabbos in America are that industrially produced meat must be glatt. If I say, hired a schochet to shecht a cow that my friend has raised on his small farm, I don’t need to worry about glatt. But Hebrew National is certainly industrial, so glatt is important.

    That said, there are other of hechshers that mainstream Orthodoxy doesn’t hold by. Triangle K holds some leniencies (aside from the meat, also about oil) that aren’t really acceptable in the Orthodox community, but that do at least have some justification. Tablet K cheese is actually far, far more problematic.

    Either way, as much as I wish glatt kosher hot dogs were much more widely carried, the US court system isn’t really the right place to go to resolve a kashrus dispute. There’s a reason we deal with kashrus through trademarks rather than legislation.

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